Formerly: An Exhibition of Disappearing London
If you’re down on the South Bank in London, it’s worth taking time to catch this exhibition of poems and photographs at the Poetry Library until 3 February 2013 – Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 8pm
Formerly is both a book and an exhibition. It’s a collaboration between poet Tamar Yoseloff and photographer Vici MacDonald. The book contains fourteen of Yoseloff’s poems, each a response to one of MacDonald’s photographs of derelict parts of London. The exhibition puts the book on the wall with enlargements of the words and images.
Since launching the book earlier this year, Yoseloff and MacDonald have revisited each of the locations to collect found objects – such as a cloth rose, a pair of black court shoes, a fragment of brick, a plastic dolphin - and to write up-to-date field notes, all on display. Some of the buildings have disappeared. In place of The Rose pub there is now a car wash.
Talking to MacDonald at the launch last week I was curious to know how her collection of images had begun: ‘As a child I'd get fascinated by doorways, shops, decaying industrial buildings, and "photograph" them with my eyes.’ At art school she started photographing for real and later, ‘when digital came in, I decided to concentrate on shop fronts, with a possible book in mind. I'd make special pilgrimages to places that looked interesting on the map. Or, locations would choose me, as I passed through them.’
Tamar Yoseloff had long admired MacDonald’s photographs, ‘like good poems, they focus on the minute but important details.’
By the time their collaborative project was conceived Yoseloff had plenty of images to choose from, ‘I trawled through hundreds she has taken over the years.’ MacDonald noticed that Yoseloff tended to respond to images that included text and sought more of those out for her to view. And so the process of trawling and selection went on.
Meanwhile, Yoseloff was considering poetic form, 'The sonnet seemed to be perfect – snapshot-sized, but also appropriate for elegy and commemoration.' With that in mind, they eventually settled on the fourteen images for each of which Yoseloff produced a poem. Her sonnets don’t obey all the rules, but as Don Paterson says in his 101 Sonnets, the basic requirement for the modern sonnet is those fourteen lines.
With images chosen and the constraints of form in place it’s still a tall order to ‘commission’ yourself to produce. ‘Narratives and characters suggested themselves as the poems developed,’ Yoseloff recalls.
The poems work well as a sequence, the effect is cumulative as words and phrases are repeated in changing contexts. The tone ranges from elegiac, such as in 'Formerly,' to a kind of resilient bravado in ‘Quickie Heel Bar.’ Poems and pictures work together to build atmosphere, character and history. To quote a phrase from ‘Formerly’ this is a project to ‘honour dust.’
Formerly is available in a limited edtion of 300 signed copies, price £8, from Hercules Editions